Pesach: Changing Four Sons

April 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Posted in Bo, Passover/Pesach | Leave a comment

The wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask.

These are the “Four Sons” in the haggadah (הַגָּדָה = The Telling), the guide to the Passover/Pesach seder.  Even haggadot that leave out many traditional sections still include the Four Sons (or in modern versions, Four Children) and label them that way.  If you go to a Pesach seder this Friday evening, you will encounter them.

Yet these four types of children have only a tenuous connection with the story of the exodus from Egypt in the Torah.  And telling that story is what Pesach is all about.

pesach (פֶּסַח) =  the animal sacrifice for Passover, the festival of Passover.  Plural: pesachim (פְּסָחִים).

The Torah prescribes what a father should say to a son on Pesach four times.  Three of these instructions are preceded by a hypothetical question from a child.

But the answers in the haggadah are different from the answers in the Torah.  By about 200 CE the Jewish community in Babylon had labeled the sons in the four passages and changed the answers to be given by their fathers.

“The Four Sons” Pesach tradition is first reported in the Mekhilta di Rabbi Yishmael.1  Who knows, maybe even Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha was the one who invented this section in the second century CE, and it became popular after his students recorded it.  The passage begins:

Four Sons in French haggadah, 1880’s

There are four sons: a wise son, a wicked son, a simple son, and one who does not know how to ask.  (Mekhilta di Rabbi Yishmael, 13:14)2

A parental answer follows for each type of son.

Is it possible to combine the four explanations for children in the Torah with the Four Sons found in the Mekhilta and all traditional haggadot?  Here is my attempt.

 

The “Wise” One

The question of the first child comes from the book of Deuteronomy/Devarim:

If your son asks you in the future, saying: “What are the terms and the decrees and the regulations that God, our God, has commanded you?”  Then you shall say to your son: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand …  And then God commanded us to do all these decrees, to be in awe of God, our God, for our own good always, to keep us alive as on this day.”  (Deuteronomy 6:20-21, 6:24)

For about 1,800 years the haggadah has applied the child’s question to the rules of the Pesach seder:

Breaking off the afikoman

What does the wise son say?  “What are the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments that God, our God, commanded us?”  You, likewise, open to him with the Pesach rule: “Nothing should be eaten after the Pesach afikoman.”2

Later haggadot say the parent should tell the child all the rules of Pesach, including the one that nothing must be eaten after the afikoman.  Although in the Torah this child says “commanded you”, the Mekhilta rewrites his question as “commanded usin order to make the boy look better.

Answering the child’s question in the context of Deuteronomy 6:20-25 would be a bootless enterprise.  If you responded with every rule in the Torah and how it is applied, both you and the child would fall asleep long before you could finish the task.  You could limit your list to the rules of the Pesach seder, including the afikoman; but why not bring up each rule when you actually apply it during the evening?

I recommend saying: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out from Egypt with a strong hand.  So if we are wise we obey God’s rules, in awe and gratitude, and for our own good.  Because here we are, alive today!”  (Deuteronomy 6:21-24)

 

The “Wicked” One

The question of the second child comes from the book of Exodus/Shemot:

Take for yourselves an animal from the flock for your families and slaughter the pasach.  And you shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and daub it on the lintel and the two doorposts …  And God will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and God will pasach over the entrance …  And when your children say to you: “What is this service to you?”  Then you shall say: “It is a pasach slaughter for God, who pasach the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when [God] struck the Egyptians, but preserved our households.”  (Exodus/Shemot 12:21-23, 12:26-27)

pasach (פָּסַח) = (verb) limped, skipped; (noun) an alternate spelling of pesach (פֶּסַח).

In context, the children are asking about the service of daubing blood on the outside frame of the front door, to commemorate the action in the book of Exodus.  (Although pesach animals were slaughtered annually at the temple in Jerusalem until the second temple was destroyed in 70 CE, there is no evidence to date other than this passage in Exodus that the daubing of blood around doors was ever re-enacted.)

But the Mekhilta completely changes the meaning of the children’s question:

What does the wicked son say?  “What is this service to you?”—to you, and not to him.  Because he disassociated himself from the congregation and denied the foundation, you, likewise, blunt his teeth and tell him: “Because of this [that] God did for me when I went out of Egypt.”  For me and not for you.  Had you been there, you would not have been redeemed.

The father’s reply here sounds to me as if the questioner is not “the wicked son”, but “the son whose father hates him”.

The father makes the “wicked son” look bad by correctly quoting “What is this service to you?” and leaping to the conclusion that “to you” means the boy is disassociating himself from his parents and from other Jews.

This is a prejudiced assumption.  Perhaps the child is merely expressing curiosity about a particular Pesach service and its meaning to an adult.  The service in question is what the Israelites did in Egypt the night before they were freed: slaughtering a sheep or goat and daubing its blood on the lintel and doorposts of the front door.

I recommend answering: “Thanks to that service, God “skipped over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when [God] struck the Egyptians, but preserved our houses.  (Exodus 12:27)   And that is why we call this week Passover; the Hebrew name, Pesach, means skipped over.”

 

The “Simple” One

The third child’s question appears in Exodus after the instructions to sacrifice every firstborn male animal in the herd and flock to God, in commemoration of the tenth and final plague in Egypt.  A firstborn donkey is redeemed with a sheep sacrificed in its place.  The firstborn son of each human mother is also dedicated to God.

Death of the Firstborn, haggadah by Judah Pinḥas, Germany, 1747

But every firstborn human among your sons you shall redeem.  And when your son asks you in the future, saying: “What is this?”  Then you shall say to him: “By strength of hand God brought us out from Egypt, from the house of slavery.  And when Pharaoh hardened against sending us out, then God killed every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of humans to the firstborn of livestock.  Therefore I am slaughtering for God every male womb-opener, but every firstborn of my sons I must redeem.”  (Exodus 13:14-15)

The Mekhilta takes the question out of context and shortens the answer:

What does the simple son say?  “What is this?”  And you shall tell him: “With a mighty hand did God take us out of Egypt from the house of bondage.”

The best answer depends on what the simple child cannot find the words to describe.  If “this” is the Pesach seder, it suffices to answer: “This is the way we tell the story of how God rescued us from slavery in Egypt.”

But what if the child has qualms about God’s tenth plague in Egypt, the death of the firstborn?  I recommend reassuring your child (or your inner child) by explaining: “That was a miracle in the story.  Moses told our ancestors to commemorate it by sacrificing the firstborn of each cow, sheep, or goat at the altar, but to redeem every firstborn son by giving something different to God instead.  (Exodus 13:15)  Today we give money in honor of the firstborn.”

 

The Speechless One

Exodus tells the father what to say to his son about the festival of matzah without including any prompting question.

Seven days you shall eat matzah, and on the seventh day will be a festival for God.  Matzah shall be eaten for seven days, and nothing leavened shall be seen with you, and no sourdough shall be seen with you, throughout all your territory.  And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: “For the sake of what God did for me in taking me out from Egypt.”  (Exodus 13:6-8)

Modern biblical scholars suspect that there was already a festival of matzah in the spring, before the first grain harvest, and the Torah absorbed the pre-existing festival into the Pesach observance.4

Nevertheless, the Torah instructs us to explain the presence of matzah and the absence of leavened food during the week of Pesach in terms of the exodus.  And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: “For the sake of what God did for me in taking me out from Egypt.”  So does the Mekhilta:

And he who does not know how to ask, you open for him, as it is written: “And you shall tell your son on that day, etc.”

Like the answers for the “wicked” child and the “simple” child, the invented “son who does not know how to ask” gets an answer that ignores the point of the corresponding passage in the Torah—in this case instructions for the festival of matzah.

I recommend telling the speechless child: “For seven days we eat matzah, and avoid any baked goods with leavening.  Why do we do this?  For the sake of what God did for me in taking me out from Egypt.  (Exodus 13:6-8)  That’s what it says in the Torah, but what do you think it means?”  In this way you may encourage your child to ask questions and generate possible answers.

*

Pesach is when we must tell the story of the exodus from Egypt in a way that engages our children and the “children” inside us.  In order to do that, we can combine the traditions with our own creativity.  The Babylonian Talmud tractate Pesachim gives examples of spur-of-the moment alternatives to traditional sections.5  But if you would like to plan some alternatives in advance, you are welcome to use this blog post as a starting point.

  1. The Mekhilta di Rabbi Yishmael collection of commentary on the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy written during the first through fourth centuries CE and by Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, his students, and subsequent commentators and redactors. The rules and customs of Passover in the Mekhilta were probably written in the early third century CE, about the same time as Rabbi Yehudah Ha Nasi collected the mishnah of the Talmud.  The fours sons in the Mekhilta are alluded to in the Jerusalem Talmud, but not in the Babylonian Talmud.
  2. This quote and all subsequent quotes from the Mekhilta use the translation in sefaria.org/Mekhilta_d’Rabbi_Yishmael. They are all from 13:14.
  3. The afikomen is the final course or dessert of the Passover meal, consisting of half a piece of matzah separated and hidden early in the ritual.
  4. The only reason given in Exodus for observing the festival of matzah during Pesach is the sentence: “And they baked the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, flat rounds of matzah, because it had not leavened, because they were driven out from Egypt and they could not delay. They did not even make provisions for themselves.”  (Exodus 12:39)  But the Israelites have two week’s notice, and their only leaven is sourdough starter, which never runs out as long as a little is saved from each batch of bread.
  5. For example, Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 115b: “Abaye was sitting before Rabba when he was still a child. He saw that they were removing the table before him, and he said to those removing it: “We have not yet eaten, and you are taking the table away from us?”  Rabba said to him: “You have exempted us from reciting the questions of ‘Why is this night different’, as you have already asked what is special about the seder night.”  (Translation from www.sefaria.or/Pesachim 115b.)

 

Metzora & Habakkuk: Torn Houses

April 10, 2019 at 9:26 pm | Posted in Habakkuk, Metzora | Leave a comment

Metzora

When a priest diagnoses the skin disease tzara-at in a human being, that person is isolated from family, community, and God’s sanctuary, and must live outside the camp or town.  (See last week’s post, Tazria & Psalms 38 & 88: Isolation of the Sick.)  Tzara-at is also the name of a green or red mark that appears and grows in fabric or leather, requiring the article to be burned.

This week’s Torah portion, Metzora (“someone with tzara-at”) applies the name tzara-at to an infection (probably mold) in the walls of a house.   But how do you remove a house from society?

When the owner of the house sees something that looks like a mark of tzara-at, he must inform a priest.

Green mold

And he will see the mark, and hey! [if] the mark is sunken into the walls of the bayit, thin-greens or blood-reds, and appears deep in the wall, the priest shall go out from the bayit to the entrance of the bayit, and he shall close up the bayit for seven days.  (Leviticus/Vayikra  14:37-38)

bayit (בַּיִת) = house, building; household (consisting of family and servants living together).

Seven days is also how long a priest must quarantine a human tentatively diagnosed with tzara-at before a re-examination.

The priest shall return on the seventh day, and he shall look, and hey! [if] the mark in the walls of the bayit has spread, then the priest shall give an order, and they shall take out the stones that are in the marked part, and throw them away outside the town in a ritually impure place.   (Leviticus 14:39-40)

Members of the household must also scrape off and throw away the clay or whitewash1 coating the stones inside the house.  Then they can rebuild that section of the wall with new stones and a new coating.

But if the mark returns and spreads in the bayit after taking out the stones and after hiketzot the house and after re-coating, then the priest shall come and look, and hey!  [if] the mark has spread in the bayit, it is tzara-at from a hurt in the bayit; it is ritually impure.  And he shall demolish the bayit …  (Leviticus 14:43-45)

hiketzot (הִקְצוֹת) = scraping?  tearing apart?  (Probably a defective hifil form of the verb katz, קוץ = tore apart.)

In an earlier post, Metzora: A Diseased Family, I suggested that since the word bayit means a household as well as a house, tzara-at of a house might represent a serious malfunction in the household that lives there.  Then if replacing an obviously diseased part of the family’s life does not solve the problem, the household should be disbanded.

Habakkuk

Bayit can also mean the household of a king.  The prophetic poetry of Habakkuk may include a reference to the tzara-at of an imperial household.

The book of Habakkuk is set in the late 7th century BCE., after the Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered much of the Ancient Near East, including the northern kingdom of Israel, and made Judah a vassal state.  It was written shortly before the Babylonian army marched on Jerusalem in 598 BCE.Part of Habakkuk’s prophecy addresses the king of Babylon:

           Since you gutted many nations

            All the remaining peoples shall gut you

            for the bloodshed of humans and the violence to the land,

            The city and all who dwell in it.  (Habakkuk 2:8)

Rashi2 wrote that “the violence of the land” means the violence done to the land of Israel, and that the city in the next line is Jerusalem.  Habakkuk did live in Judah, so this interpretation fits the prophet’s frame of reference.

          Hoy!3  Who is cutting off a cut-off slice,4

           [Bringing] evil to his own bayit

           To set his nest on high?  (Habakkuk 2:9)

The king in Babylon (probably Nabopolassar, regnant 658-605 BCE) is not bringing evil to the stones of the palace building.  He is corrupting his household, including his son, general, and successor, Nebuchadnezzar II (regnant 605-562 BCE).

           Your plan has shamed your own bayit,

           Ketzot many peoples,

           And your soul was guilty.  (Habakkuk 2:10)

ketzot (קְצוֹת) = feeling disgust; tearing apart.  (A form of the verb katz, probably related to hiketzot in Leviticus 14:43 above.)

Rashi wrote that the shameful thing the ruler of Babylon plotted was to “strip and peel” many peoples, as in the treatment of walls in Leviticus 14:43.

           For a stone from a wall will cry an alarm,

           And a wooden rafter will answer:

           Hoy!  Who builds a town through bloodshed

           And founds a city through injustice?  (Habakkuk 2:11-12)

Images in poetry often refer to several things at once.  Here the parts of a house cry out when the house is being torn apart, like the house in this week’s Torah portion in which the disease of tzara-at reappeared.

But the countries that the Babylonians have been tearing apart are also crying out.  And if the injustice perpetrated by the king of Babylon’s household is the evil brought home to roost in Habakkuk 2:9, as well as the shame and guilt in verse 2:10, then the stone and the rafter respond as if they are the soul and conscience of the royal family crying out in alarm.

In Habakkuk, God promises that eventually the rulers from Babylon will be overturned.

           You shall be sated with dishonor rather than glory …

           The cup in the right hand of God will come around to you,

            And disgrace instead of your glory.  (Habakkuk 2:16)

The royal line of kings from Nabolpolasser to Nebuchadnezzar and four kings after him ended in 539 BCE, when Cyrus I expanded his Persian Empire by conquering Babylon.  Elsewhere the Hebrew Bible claims that God sent Cyrus to rescue the Jews from Babylonian rule.5  Cyrus ruled his empire with a lighter hand, giving a measure of autonomy to local regions and letting deportees such as the Jews in Babylon return home and rebuild their temples.

*

Ancient Israelites and classic Torah commentators believed that some diseases are a divine punishment for bad behavior.  Today some people still see physical disease as an expression of a psychological issue, though as medical science advances fewer and fewer diseases are classified as psychosomatic.  Neither white patches of skin nor mold in the walls is caused by negative thoughts.

But poetry can use the imagery of unnatural patches of skin, and creeping mold in walls, to convey truths about the psyche.  Habakkuk transmits God’s message that rulers bent on conquest regardless of the price in terms of the destruction of human lives or the devastation of the land may build their “nest in the heights”, but the evil they do will infect their own household—their own ruling family and its confederates—with a disease of the soul.

Habakkuk adds that eventually God will bring down the Babylonian empire.  I would add that those who rule without regard for justice, the suffering of human beings, or the plight of the earth cannot experience real happiness or meaning in life.  As we rant against such a ruler and his collaborators our own time, may we also feel pity for those with diseased souls.

  1. The bible uses the word eifer (אֵפֶר) for the material coating the stones. Usually eifer means dust, ashes, or fine dirt. As a wall coating, it might be clay refined from dirt, or whitewash made with lime from ashes of animal bones.
  2. Rashi is the acronym for 11th-century rabbi ShlomohYitzchaki.
  3. The biblical Hebrew interjection Hoy (הוֹי) means the same as the Yiddish interjection Oy: a combination of “Oh!”, “Woe!”, “Oh no!”, and a deep sigh.
  4. “Cutting off a slice” is a biblical idiom for enriching oneself by cheating.
  5. Jeremiah 29:10, Ezra 1:1, Isaiah 45:1-3.

 

Tazria & Psalms 38 & 88: Isolation of the Sick

April 3, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Posted in Psalms/Tehilim, Tazria | 1 Comment

Tazria

Four men with tzara-at plunder an empty tent in 2 Kings 7:8

Instructions for diagnosing the biblical skin disease of tzara-at (צָרַעַת) fill most of this week’s Torah portion, Tazria (“She makes seed”).  The end of the portion finally says what happens to people who have tzara-at.

And the person marked with tzara-at, his clothes shall be torn and his head [of hair] shall be disheveled, and he shall cover his lips, and he shall call out: “Tamei!”  All the days that the mark is on him he shall be continually tamei.  Alone he shall dwell; outside the camp is his dwelling-place.  (Leviticus/Vayikra 13:45-46)

tamei (טָמֵא) = contaminated, ritually impure, unfit for worshiping God.

Jewish mourners still tear clothing

Torn clothes, wild hair, and covered lips are all signs of mourning in the Hebrew Bible.1  People afflicted with tzara-at are not dead.  But like those who mourn a family member’s death, they mourn their separation from those they love. They can no longer live together, or even come within touching distance.  Calling out “Tamei” keeps people away, since the condition of being tamei (though not the skin disease itself) is contagious.  Being tamei also prevents people with tzara-at from approaching God in the sanctuary courtyard.

Once a priest diagnoses tzara-at, the person with the disease is isolated from the camp, the community, and the service of God.  The isolation may not be permanent; next week’s Torah portion, Metzora, includes the rituals for removing the tamei status of those who have recovered from tza-arat and reintegrating them back into the community.  Later in the bible are examples of two people healed by divine intervention,2 four men who do not expect they will ever recover,3 and a king who has tzara-at until he dies.4

The Psalms never mention tzara-at, but two psalms consider the anguish of someone with a serious disease—not because of pain, but because of isolation.

Psalm 38

The bible generally assumes that disease is a punishment God inflicts when one has done the wrong thing.  The speaker in Psalm 38 declares:

          There is no sound spot in my flesh thanks to your curse,

                        There is no peace in my bones thanks to my error.

            For my crimes pass through my head

                        Like a heavy burden, too heavy for me.         

            My wounds are making a stench

                        Through my own folly.  (Psalm 38:4-6)

After complaining about a twisted body, burning guts, numbness, a violent heartbeat, and weakness, the speaker brings up another problem:

           My loving ones and my friends stand apart from my affliction;

                       Those who are close to me stand meirachok.  (Psalm 38:12)

Job, his Wife and his Friends. by William Blake, ca. 1785

meirachok (מֵרָחֺק) = at a distance, from away, staying far away.  (A form of the verb rachak, רָחַק = was distant, drifted away from, kept far away.)

In the book of Job, the afflicted person’s “comforters” cluster around to tell him his sickness is his own fault, since God only sends disease to those who have sinned.  In Psalm 38, the speaker believes the sickness is a well-deserved punishment, but the speaker’s friends stay away.

Meanwhile, the speaker’s enemies plot to take advantage of his illness, and the speaker is unable to hear or rebuke them.  The only one left to listen to an appeal is God.

           Because for you, God, I have hoped.

                        You will answer me, my master, my God.

            Because I thought: “Lest they rejoice over me

                        When my foot staggers, magnify themselves over me!”

            For I am certainly stumbling,

                        And my anguish is in front of me always.  (Psalm 38:16-17)

The psalm ends:

           Do not give up on me, God!

                        My God, do not tirechak from me!

            Hasten to my aid,

                        My master, my rescuer.  (Psalm 38:22-23)

tirechak (תִּרְחַק) = you stay distant, you keep away.  (Another form of the verb rachak.)

The speaker is isolated from friends and family, who therefore cannot provide comfort; isolated from enemies, who scheme outside the speaker’s hearing range; and isolated from God, who does not seem to be present.

Psalm 88

Psalm 88 opens with a sick person’s plea to God.    

            May my prayer come before you,

                        Stretch out your ears to my cry!

            Because my living body is sated with bad things;

                        And my life has reached the brink of death.

            I am counted among those who go into the pit.

                        I have become a strongman without strength.  (Psalm 88:3-5)

This speaker blames God—who made him sick—for isolation from friends.

           Hirechakta from me those who know me;

                       You make me abhorrent to them;

                        Imprisoned, I cannot go out.  (Psalm 88:9)

hirechakta (הִרְחַקְתָּ) = you removed to a distance, you kept (something) far away.  (Another form of the verb rachak.)

Then the sick person offers God a motivation for healing, pointing out that only the living can praise God.

           Do you do wonders for the dead?

                        Do ghosts rise and praise you?  (Psalm 88:10)

Yet the speaker remains isolated from God as well.

           Why, God, do you reject me,

                        Do you hide your face from me?  (Psalm 88:15)

The psalm ends with the pain of isolation.

          Hirechakta my loving ones and my friends from me,

                        Those who know me—[into] darkness.  (Psalm 88:19)

The worst thing about death is that it cuts off any possibility of communication, with humans or with God.5

*

Some people today have visible diseases, irregularities, or deformities, like the people with tzara-at in the bible.  Although we no longer have a law isolating them, it is human nature to stare—or to carefully avoid looking at them.  Meeting their eyes, smiling, and starting a normal conversation is harder, especially when the defect is on the face.  Doing so anyway is the only ethical approach; yet because humans are weak and easily spooked, these people still suffer isolation.

Others today have invisible diseases; I am one.  Reading Psalms 38 and 88 brings tears to my eyes.  I can pass for healthy, and engage in society and communal worship like a healthy person (except that I cannot make a living because I’d need too many sick days, and I have to pace my activities to prevent exhaustion).  I am grateful that I am not isolated from human company, and I have dear family and friends.

But with my whole heart I can speak or chant those words begging God: “Do not give up on me!  Hasten to my aid!  Why do you hide your face from me?”

I do not believe God afflicts us with physical problems as a punishment for disobedience or wrongdoing.  Sometimes, in our misery, we expand our own set of physical problems with unwise behaviors.  On the other hand, we may benefit from new scientific knowledge that repairs some of the things that go wrong in our bodies.

Nevertheless, I know that often bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.  There is no divine justice for individuals.                        

Then why do we beg God to heal us?  Why do we fix our hope on God?                                

Who else is there?      

  1. Mourners customarily tear their clothes in Leviticus 10:6-7 and 21:10-11, leave their hair loose and disheveled in in Leviticus 10:6-7 and 21:10-11 and Ezekiel 24:17, and cover their lips in Ezekiel 24:17.
  2. The bible only records healing from tzara-at when there is divine intervention. In Numbers 12:10-15 God afflicts Miriam with tzara-at and then heals her.  In 2 Kings 5:1-11, the prophet and miracle-worker Elisha heals General Na-aman of tzara-at.
  3. 2 Kings 7:3-16. The four men with tzara-at must stay outside the city walls even when the enemy is approaching to attack the city.
  4. 2 Kings 15:5. King Azaryah lives in an isolated house while his son Yotam does the king’s business in the palace and on the battlefield.
  5. Walter Brueggemann points out in The Message of the Psalms, Augburg Publishing, Minneapolis, 1984, p. 79: “This is the voice of a dying one crying out to the only source of life. ‘The Pit’ [see Psalm 88:5] is not final judgment or a fiery place of punishment. It is only beyond the range of communion. For this speaker, communion with God is clearly everything.” I would amend this statement to say communion, with both human beings and God, is everything.

(P.S. I am transferring my domain name today.  Future posts will be e-mailed to everyone following my blog, as before.  Thank you, subscribers!)

Shemini, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, & Psalm 131: Silenced

March 27, 2019 at 2:03 pm | Posted in Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Psalms/Tehilim, Shemini | Leave a comment

Something shocking happens after the first priests, Aaron and his four sons, consecrate the new altar in this week’s Torah portion, Shemini (“Eighth”).1

The Two Priests Are Destroyed, by James Tissot

Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, each took his fire-pan and he put embers on it and he placed incense on it.  And they brought alien fire in front of God, which [God] had not commanded them [to do].  And fire went out from before God, and it devoured them, and they died in front of God.  Then Moses said to Aaron: “It is what God spoke, saying:  Through those close to me, I will be proven holy; and in the presence of all the people I will be glorified.” And Aaron, vayidom. (Leviticus/Vayikra 10:1-3)

vayidom (וַיִּדֺּם) = he was silent, he became quiet; he was motionless.  (A form of the verb damam, דָּמַם = was silent, quiet, still, motionless.2)

Why do Aaron’s two older sons bring unauthorized incense into the new tent-sanctuary?  Why did Moses tell Aaron, who has just watched his sons die, that God said, “Through those close to me, I will be proven holy”?  Why is Aaron is silent and still?

I have offered some speculations in previous blog posts.  (See Shemini: Fire Meets Fire and Shemini: Mourning in Silence.)  This year I wondered why Aaron’s silence continues beyond the initial shock of the catastrophe.  Does guilt tie his tongue?  Is he too exhausted or frightened to make a move, except to obey an order?  Or is it possible that he has a moment of enlightenment?

  • After the first shock, Aaron might be unable to move or make a noise because he is overwhelmed by guilt.  Maybe he set a bad example when he made an alien idol, the golden calf.  Maybe he should have stopped Nadav and Avihu the instant when they filled their fire-pans.  Maybe God is punishing him for doing the wrong thing.
  • After the first shock, he might remain silent at some signal from his brother Moses.  As soon as Moses has arranged for Aaron’s cousins to remove the bodies, he orders Aaron and his two surviving sons to refrain from mourning.3  Aaron obediently remains silent until a question comes up about an animal offering; then he has recovered enough to take initiative again.4
  • After the first shock, Aaron might realize that no one is safe, not even Moses’ family.  He did not survive the episode of the golden calf because he was Moses’ brother, but merely because God had another plan.  God chose all four of his sons to serve as priests, then killed two of them on their first day of service.  This is life, and anything can happen.  In a moment of non-attachment, Aaron waits quietly for whatever happens next.

All three of these attitudes can be expressed with silence, as we see in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Psalm 131.

Jeremiah and Guilt

In the book of Jeremiah, God declares through the prophet that all the people of Jerusalem will die because they are guilty of persistent wrongdoing.  At one point, Jeremiah interrupts:

Fortress on a Hill, by Augustin Hirschvogel, 1546

Why are we sitting here?

Let us gather and enter fortified towns, venidmah there.

For God, our God, hadimanu,

And has made us drink venom,

Because we offended God. (Jeremiah 8:14)

venidmah (וְנִדְּמָה) = and we will be still and wait.  (Another form of the verb damam.)

hadimanu (הֲדִמָּנוּ) = has silenced us.  (Also a form of damam.)

Jeremiah repeatedly declares that the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem will succeed because God is punishing the people for their sins.  They are guilty, so they must be silent.

Ezekiel and Obedience

Moses tells Aaron and his surviving sons that priests may not bare their heads or tear their clothing even if a close family member dies.  All the other Israelites can wail and mourn, but not the holy priests.

Mourning is also silenced in the book of Ezekiel, a prophet from a family of priests (who would be priest himself if the Babylonians had not deported him from Jerusalem).  Ezekiel reports that God told him:

Ezekiel (with head-dress), by Michelangelo

Human, I am here taking away from you by pestilence what is precious in your eyes.  And you may not beat the breast, nor wail, nor shed a tear.  Groan in dom.  You may not do mourning rites for the dead.  You shall tie on your head-dress and put your sandals on your feet, and you may not cover your lips, and you may not eat the bread of other men.  (Ezekiel 24:16-17)

dom (דֺּם) = silence.  (From the verb damam.)

Ezekiel’s wife dies that night, and he obeys God’s orders.  When the Jews in his community in Babylon ask him why he is not mourning, Ezekiel replies that this is how they should act when the temple in Jerusalem falls and the sons and daughters they left behind die by the sword.  Like priests, they must not exhibit mourning even when God lets their beloved city and their children perish.

However, they must also remember their guilt.

… you shall not beat the breast and you shall not wail.  But you shall rot in your crimes, and you shall moan, each man to his brother.  (Ezekiel 24:23)5

Psalm 131 and Acceptance

After Nadav and Avihu die, Aaron is silent and motionless, a powerless man with nothing to do but wait.

Quiet acceptance is the theme of Psalm 131, a short poem translated here in full:

A song of ascents for David.

            God, my heart is not haughty

            And my eyes are not arrogant.

            I have not gone after greatness

            Or wonders too difficult for me.

            I have found equilibrium vedomamti my soul.

            Like a weaned child on its mother,

            Like a weaned child is my soul.

            Wait, Israel, for God

            From now until forever.  (Psalm 131:1-3)

vedomamti (וְדוֹמַמְתִּי) = and I have made quiet.  (Also a form of the verb damam.)

The speaker is humble, not striving to achieve.  He or she is weaned from attachment and dependence, and has found equilibrium6 and an inner state of peace and quiet.  Such a person can wait patiently for God to manifest.

*

Does Aaron become a quiet and humble man after God devours his two older sons?  Does he reach a state of peaceful non-attachment?  Perhaps; when God says Aaron must die without entering the “promised land”, Aaron, unlike Moses, does not make a fuss.7

What would it take for your soul to become quiet and peaceful after a disaster?

  1. See my post Shemini: Prayer and Glory.
  2. Some translators distinguish between damam I, which refers to silence and stillness, damam II, which refers to quiet sobbing or murmuring, and damam III, which refers to being destroyed or perishing. I believe this distinction is unnecessary.  A word indicating silence and stillness can also indicate a noise that is barely audible, like the “still, small voice” (demamah, דְּמָנָה) of God in 1 Kings 19:12.  And every time a word with the root damam has been translated as being devastated or perishing, it appears in a poetic passage that easily accommodates a translation in terms of silencing or stopping all motion. (See Psalm 31:18 and Jeremiah 25:37, 48:2, 49:26 and 50:30, and 51:6.)
  3. Leviticus 10:5-6.
  4. Leviticus 10:16-20.
  5. The translation of וּנְמַקֺּתֶם בַּעֲוֹנֺתֵיכֶם as “and you shall rot in your crimes” comes from Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible, Vol. 2: Prophets, W. Norton & Co., New York, 2019.
  6. Shiviti (שִׁוִּתִי) = I have leveled, I have made even, I have equated. Therefore my translation here is “I found equilibrium”.
  7. Both men are doomed to die outside the “promised land” of Canaan in Numbers 20:12, although Moses is the one who shouts the words God finds offensive. Aaron quietly dies on Mt. Hor in Numbers 20:23-28.  Moses complains about God’s decree in Deuteronomy 3:23-6.

Esther: Stupid Decisions

March 19, 2019 at 11:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Purim, a Jewish holiday on the 14th of Adar (March 20-21 this year), revolves around the book of Esther, an imaginative farce set in Shushan, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia (553-333 BCE).

The real kings of this empire were smarter than the average dictator.  The founder, Cyrus I, encouraged the fealty of the many ethnic groups in his lands by granting them local autonomy and helping them rebuild their old temples.  Darius I recruited administrators and soldiers from many ethnic groups.  His son Xerxes I (reign 486-465 BCE), called Achashveirosh in the book of Esther, continued these astute policies of cultural and religious tolerance, making it easier to rule the world’s biggest empire to date.

Persian Empire ca. 500 BCE

The real King Achashveirosh/Xerxes also successfully crushed revolts in Egypt and Babylon.  He built gigantic palaces in two of his five capital cities, Persepolis and Susa/Shushan.  He kept a large harem but had only one queen, a Persian noblewoman named Amestris.  Xerxes seems to have been a competent political leader with a taste for the standard royal luxuries.

But in the book of Esther, King Achashveirosh is, above all, stupid.  His stupid decisions drive a plot of near-catastrophes and amazing reversals.

On the evening of Purim we read and perform the book of Esther, enjoying every comic moment.  Late the next afternoon there is a traditional seudah shlishit, a “third meal” which is supposed to be second in importance only to the seder meal on Passover.  Unlike the Passover seder, the Purim seudah has no ritual text.  But maybe this year it could be a time to discuss some of the stupid rulings the fictionalized king makes—and how easy it is to make similar errors today.

Persian gold drinking horn, 5th century BCE

The book of Esther opens with King Achashveirosh spending lavishly on a 180-day drinking feast for his administrators and noblemen, followed by a seven-day drinking feast for the entire male population of Shushan.

And the drinking was according to the dat: There is no constraint!  (Esther 1:8)

dat (דָּת) = (plural datim, דָּתִים) rule, law, regulation, edict, decree.  (From the Persian word data.)

The word dat is used only in biblical passages written after the Persian Empire took over the Neo-Babylonian Empire and its formerly Israelite territory circa 539 BCE.  Dat appears 20 times in the book of Esther.  During the course of the story, King Achashveirosh (who likes to drink) issues six new datim on impulse, without constraints such as getting information or thinking things over.

Dat 1

Persian Queen Atossa, crowned 522 BCE

On the seventh day, as the king was feeling good with wine, he said … to bring Vashti, the queen, before the king in her royal crown, to display her beauty to the peoples and the officials, since she was good-looking.  (Esther 1:11)

Vashti refuses.1  Achashveirosh is furious.

But the king spoke to the wise men … because this was the king’s practice, [to come] before all experts on dat and judgement.  (Esther 1:13)

Consulting legal advisors on what to do about this perceived insult from the queen seems like a wise and sensible move—as long as one has competent advisors.  King Achashveirosh has seven, but only one speaks: Memukhan, who declares that in order to prevent noblewomen throughout the empire from getting uppity, Vashti must be severely punished.  Memukhan proposes a new dat declaring that Vashti is dethroned, divorced, deprived of her land, and banned from the king’s presence.  Achashveirosh agrees with no further thought.

*

Today, when do we (or our rulers) act on impulse, following the lead of the first person to speak, without pausing to solicit other opinions?  Do we fail to express our own viewpoints when we are given the opportunity to speak?

Dat 2

After a while Achashveirosh misses Vashti.  The real Achaemenid kings chose all their queens from seven noble Persian families, but in the book of Esther the king’s servants suggest holding a beauty contest to pick the next queen.  Each of the many finalists would spend a night with the king.  Achashveirosh jumps on this idea without consulting his legal advisors, and issues a new dat declaring the contest and its procedures.   Eventually he chooses Esther, the adopted daughter of her uncle Mordecai, a Jew who “sits in the gate” of Shushan as a judge.

*

Today, when do we pick our romantic partners, business associates, or even presidents based on their looks and charm, without considering any possible consequences?

Dat 3

For no apparent reason, the king picks a self-centered man named Haman as his new viceroy, and orders everyone in the king’s gate to kneel and bow down with their faces touching the ground when Haman passes through.  In the Torah this is the position of humility before God—which might explain why Mordecai refuses to do it.

When the king’s other servants tell Haman that Mordecai is ignoring the dat about bowing because he is a Jew, Haman decides to wipe out all the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Then Haman said to King Achashveirosh: “There is a certain people, scattered and separate from the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their datim are different from all [other] peoples’, and the datim of the king they do not follow.  So it is not suitable for the king to leave them in peace.”  (Esther 3:8)

Achashveirosh does not ask which group Haman is talking about.  He does not ask which of the king’s datim its members are violating, or why.  And as usual, he does not talk to anyone else to get another side of the story.  For someone unaccustomed to thinking, it is enough that these people are different.  Unlike the real kings of the Persian Empire, the Achashveirosh character is easily frightened by diversity.

*

When do we react with fear (or fear disguised as resentment) because certain people look  different, or speak a different first language, or adhere to a different religion?

Dat 4

Given the king’s usual blank state of mind, Haman’s simple scare tactic might be enough.  But the viceroy adds a bribe, promising to pay 10,000 silver disks into the royal treasury if the king commands the extermination of this unnamed people.  Without asking a single question, without thinking about justice or remembering his family’s tradition of religious tolerance, King Achashveirosh hands over his signet ring to Haman.

And scrolls were sent out by the hand of the runners to every single province of the king [with the order] to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all the Jews … on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder them.  A copy of the writing was to be given as a dat in every single province and shown to all the peoples, to be prepared for this day. (Esther 3:13-14)

*

When do we abandon our identities, giving the equivalent of our signet rings to others, for financial reasons?  For other reasons that would not hold up to scrutiny?  Do we ever wonder if we are violating our own principles?

Dat 5

Mordecai begs Esther to intercede with the king.  Much drama ensues, with two intertwining plot lines.  Haman has just erected a stake for impaling Mordecai when he is forced to publicly honor the Jew for saving the king’s life.  Meanwhile Esther uses courage and cleverness to get Achashveirosh and Haman where she wants them.2

At her second private drinking feast for the king and his viceroy, Esther asks King Achashveirosh for her life and the lives of her people.

Esther Denouncing Haman, by Ernest Normand

“Because we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, to be exterminated!”  (Esther 7:4)

Still oblivious, the king asks her who ordered such a thing.

And Esther said: “The man, the oppressor and enemy, is this evil Haman!”  (Esther 7:6)

Achashveirosh believes her at once and, as usual, asks no follow-up questions.  He has Haman impaled on his own stake.  It is sheer good fortune that Esther is correct and Haman is indeed the malefactor.

When Esther asks the king to revoke the dat about killing Jews on the 13th of Adar, we learn about another standing rule:

… a writing that was written in the name of the king and sealed with the signet ring of the king, there is no way to reverse.  (Esther 8:8)

This dat would be ridiculous in a real government.  But it does express the truth that some actions have irrevocable consequences.  We insult someone, and the person never forgets it.  We make a mistake or pass a law that results in someone’s death, and nothing can bring the person back to life.

King Achashveirosh gives Mordecai his signet ring and invites him and Esther to write any new dat they like to compensate for the dat about exterminating Jews on the 13th of Adar.  A dat goes out giving Jews permission to kill anyone who tries to attack them on that day.

And in every province and in every city where the word and the dat of the king reached, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a drinking feast and a holiday.  And many of the peoples of the land pretended to be Jews, because terror of the Jews had fallen upon them.  (Esther 8:17)

Jews all over the empire attack and kill their enemies on the 13th of Adar.  There is no due process, no trials to establish guilt or innocence, no follow-up on anyone the Jews accuse who manages to escape.  Mob violence rules the day.  The king’s fifth new dat is an arguably stupid way to prevent a one-day genocide.

*

When do we, like Achashveirosh, make excuses for violence perpetrated by people who have suffered from discrimination and persecution?  When do we, like Esther and Mordecai, use positions of power to improve the welfare of our own people without seeking justice for all people?

Dat 6

Achashveirosh tells Esther that the Jews of Shushan alone have killed 500 men in addition to Haman’s ten sons, and asks her if she has any other requests.

And Esther said: “If it please the king, may it be granted to the Jews in Shushan to do tomorrow as well the same as the dat of today, and may the ten sons of Haman be impaled on the stake.”  And the king said to have it done thus, and the dat was given out in Shushan …  (Esther 9:13-14)

The Jews of Shushan take this opportunity to kill another 300 men.

*

Today, when do we agree to do something merely to please a person who dazzles us, without considering whether it is ethical?

The six new datim King Achashveirosh issues in the book of Esther illustrate that stupid decisions come from:

  • acting on impulse in moments of anger or fear,
  • taking one person’s word for something without checking,
  • not collecting enough information, and
  • failing to consider our own ethical principles.

Someday may we all learn to be smarter than King Achashveirosh.

  1. Midrash Rabbah Esther (commentary from the 6th to 11th centuries CE) said that Vashti’s refusal was justified because the king was ordering her to display herself wearing her crown and nothing else.
  2. Before Esther can speak to Achashveirosh, she must risk her life; there is already a dat that anyone who enters the king’s inner court without being summoned is put to death unless the king extends his golden scepter. Never mind if there is an imperial emergency; Achashveirosh does not want to be bothered by inconvenient news.  When do we disable ourselves by going into denial?  When do we make life more difficult by trusting someone who ignores facts to be in charge?

Vayikra & Tzav vs. Isaiah & Psalm 40: Smoke vs. Words & Deeds

March 14, 2019 at 4:41 pm | Posted in Isaiah 1, Psalms/Tehilim, Tzav, Vayikra | Leave a comment

The book of Leviticus/Vayikra gets right down to business.  The first Torah portion opens with God calling to Moses, then telling him more instructions for the Israelites—this time about conducting the rituals at the altar.

from Treasures of the Bible, Northrop, 1894

Speak to the Israelites, and you shall say to them:  Any human among you who offers an offering to God, from the livestock—from the herd or from the flock—you shall offer your offering.  If it is an olah he will offer from his herd…  (Leviticus/Vayikra 1:2)

olah (עֹלָה) = rising-offering; an offering that is completely burned into smoke.  (Plural: olot (עֺלוֹת).)

A person who offers an offering of minchah to God, fine flour will be his offering …  (Leviticus 2:1)

minchah (מִנחָה) = gift of allegiance or homage; a grain-offering.

And if he offers a zevach as a thankgiving-offering …  (Leviticus 3:1)

zevach (זֶבַח) = animal slaughter as an offering on the altar.  (Plural: zivechim (זִבְחִעם).)

The text continues through this week’s Torah portion (Vayikra) and next week’s (Tzav) with instructions for a total of six kinds of offerings.  (See my post Vayikra & Tzav: Fire Offerings Without Slaughter, Part 2.)  The last four all involve slaughtering animals, burning parts of them so God can enjoy the smell of the smoke, and eating the remaining edible parts after they have been roasted on the altar.

The primary method of serving God throughout the Hebrew Bible is turning animals into smoke, “… a fire-offering of a soothing smell for God” (Leviticus 3:5).  In the first twelve books of the bible (Genesis through 2 Kings) this method goes unquestioned.

Where does this idea come from?  The Torah does not say, but I believe the ancient Israelites assumed God wanted animal sacrifices because the other gods in the Ancient Near East were worshiped that way.1

Only when foreign empires began swallowing up the kingdoms of Israel did prophets and psalmists begin to question this approach.  The first prophet in the book of Isaiah reports:

“Why your many zivechim for me?” God says.

“I am sated with olot of rams.

And suet from fattened animals

And blood of bulls and lambs and he-goats

I do not want!”  (Isaiah 1:11)

“… And when you spread your palms

I am averting my eyes from you.

Even though you multiply [your] prayers

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash, become pure;

Remove your evil acts from in front of my eyes;

Cease doing evil!

Learn to do good!

Seek justice,

Make the oppressed happy,

Defend the orphan,

Argue the widow’s case!”  (Isaiah 1:15-17)

Here God does not totally reject animal sacrifices, but God does consider good deeds and justice a higher form of service.

Psalm 40 declares:

[God] gave my mouth a new song,

A song of praise for our God.

May the many see, and may they be awed

And may they trust in God.    (Psalm 40:4)

Zevach and minchah you do not want.

You dug open a pair of ears for me!

Olah and guilt-offering you do not request.  (Psalm 40:7)

That is when I said:

Hey, I will bring a scroll of the book written for me.

I want to do what you want, my God,

And your teaching is inside my guts.

I delivered the news of right behavior to a large assembly.

Hey! I will not eat my lips.  (Psalm 40:7-10)

The speaker in Psalm 40 maintains that God does not want smoke, only words of praise. Nothing can make this poet recant; he will not “eat his lips”.  (See my post Tetzavveh: Smoke and Pray.)

*

What does God want?  Most, but not all, of the Hebrew Bible assumes God wants offerings on the altar.  Today we assume God wants words of prayer and blessing, as well as deeds of kindness and justice.

But why should we give God what we think God wants?

Suppose you want to thank a person for saving your life.  You might speak to them, send them a card, send them flowers or a bigger gift.

Suppose you want to manipulate or appease a person who has power over you.  You might speak to them, send them a card, send them flowers or a bigger gift.

The same human impulses apply to thanking or manipulating a semi-anthropomorphic God.  In the bible, the Israelites slaughter their animals in order to give them to God, either in gratitude or in an attempt at appeasement.2

Today, do we pray and do good deeds to express gratitude?  Or to appease God?  Or to manipulate God into giving us what we want?

  1. For example, the odor of Utnapishtim’s burnt sacrifice gives the gods of Mesopotamia pleasure in Gilgamesh tablet 11, part 4. In the book of Numbers, Moabite women invited Israelites to worship Baal Pe-or with them through zivechey their god” (Numbers 25:2).  (Zivechey (זִבְחֵי) = slaughter offerings of.)  In the book of Ezekiel, God complains that Israelites are flocking to foreign altars and burning sacrifices to give idols soothing smells (Ezekiel 6:13, 16:19, and 20:28).
  2. Offerings of wholeness or thanksgiving (shelamim, שְׁלָמִים) are described in the portion Vayikra in Leviticus 3:1-16 and in the portion Tzav in Leviticus 7:11-21. Offerings to appease God after violating one of God’s rules (chataat, חַטָּאת, and asham, אָשָׁם) are described in Vayikra in Leviticus 4:1-5:22.

Pekudei: Cloud of Glory

March 7, 2019 at 11:44 pm | Posted in Pekudei | Leave a comment

Moses assembles all the items the people have made into a new tent-sanctuary for God in this week’s Torah portion, Pekudei (“Inventories”), the last reading in the book of Exodus.

Cloud by John Constable

And Moses completed the work.  And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the kavod of God filled the Dwelling Place.  And Moses was not able to come into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud dwelled in it, and the kavod of God filled the Dwelling Place.  (Exodus/Shemot 40:33-35)

kavod (כָּבוֹד) = impressiveness, magnificence; honor.  Often translated as “glory”, which also means both magnificence and honor in English.  (From the root verb kaveid, כָּבֵד = be heavy, be honored; weigh down.)

The word kavod appears 24 times in the first five books of the bible.  The six times the word kavod is used in reference to humans, it refers to an impressive display of wealth, political power, or religious rank.1 The eighteen times that humans behold the kavod of God they perceive something magnificent and glorious.2  What does it look like?  Sometimes the Torah is silent about what these people see (or visualize); in other places, including the passage at the end of Exodus, the kavod of God looks like cloud or fire.3

The divine cloud only fills the tent-sanctuary initially—as if God were settling into God’s new dwelling place.  Then when God is ready to issue further instructions, at the beginning of the next biblical book, Leviticus/Vayikra, God calls to Moses.  Moses enters the tent, and God speaks to him from the empty space above the ark.  (See my post Vayikra: A Voice Calling).  The divine cloud has moved and now hovers above the tent.4

from Collectie Nederland

The book of Exodus concludes:

And when the cloud lifted from the Dwelling place, the Israelites pulled out on all their journeys.  And if the cloud did not lift, then they did not pull out until the day it did lift.  Because the cloud of God was above the Dwelling Place by day, and it became fire by night, in the eyes of the whole house of Israel on all their journeys.  (Exodus/Shemot 40:36-38)

Thus all the people have visible evidence that the kavod of God not only dwells in the portable sanctuary they collectively made, but also continues to lead and guide them through the wilderness.

*

The first time God manifests as cloud and fire is when the Israelites set out from Egypt and head into the wilderness.

And God went in front of them, by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light for walking by day and by night.  The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not cease being in front of the people. (Exodus 13:21-22).

The pillar of cloud and fire leads them all the way to Mt. Sinai.  Then cloud, smoke, and fire appear on top of the mountain instead.  God speaks from the mountaintop during the revelation of the “Ten Commandments”.  Then Moses conducts a ritual for the covenant between God and the Israelites,5 takes the elders halfway up the mountain to see God’s feet,6 and finally climbs alone to the top, where he spends 40 days and 40 nights.

And Moses went up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.  And the kavod of God dwelled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days.  Then [God] called to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud.  But the kavod of God appeared as a consuming fire on the head of the mountain in the eyes of the Israelites.  (Exodus 24:15-17)

While Moses is walking into the mysterious cloud of God’s glory, the people below think he is walking into the “consuming fire” of God’s glory.

In this week’s Torah portion, the kavod of God appears as cloud and fire hovering above the tent-sanctuary—except when God signals that it is time to travel on.  Thus the kavod of God is displayed as cloud and fire: first in a traveling pillar, then on top of Mt. Sinai, and finally above the Tent of Meeting.

*

The cloudy and fiery kavod of God drops out of the story when the Israelites reach the Jordan River.  In the book of Deuteronomy/DevarimMoses mentions it in reference to the revelation at Mt. Sinai,7 but God appears in a pillar of cloud on the east bank of the Jordan only once, when Moses takes his successor, Joshua, into the Tent of Meeting.8

Then we do not see God’s kavod again until the first book of Kings, after King Solomon has finished building the temple in Jerusalem.  At the dedication ceremony,

…when the priests went out from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of God.  And the priests were not able to stand up to minister in front of the cloud, because the kavod of God filled the house of God.  (I Kings 8:10-11)

This echo of the end of Exodus confirms that God will dwell in the temple as God dwelled in the tent-sanctuary.

*

Cloud, fire, lightning, hail, any violent storm, expressed the magnificence of Ancient Near East weather-gods long before any of the Hebrew Bible was written down.  Terrifying storms were inexplicable except as the work of gods.  But the particular images of cloud and fire attached to the kavod of the God of Israel may carry additional meanings.  Cloud conceals the divine (as in Exodus 24:16 above).  Fire from God is usually described as “devouring” (as in Exodus 24:17 above).9  The kavod of God manifests as both mystery and terrible power.

The Israelites in Exodus need to see God’s kavod in order to believe God is still with them.  Today most people take religion less literally.  I often forget to wonder whether God is with me.  Yet once in a while I see beauty that no human hand created, and I am thunderstruck by the mystery and power of the ineffable force I can only call divine.

  1. Jacob’s wealth in Genesis 31:1, Joseph’s political power in Genesis 45:13, the vestments of the new priests in Exodus 28:2 and 28:40, and the wealth promised Bilam in Numbers 24:11. The poetic prophesy in Genesis 49:6 uses the word kavod for Jacob’s honor or reputation.
  2. Exodus 16:7, 16:10, 24:11, 24:16, 29:43, 33:18, 33:22, 40:34. 40:35; Leviticus 9:6, 9:23; Numbers 14:10, 14:21, 14:22,16:19, 17:7, 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:21.
  3. Before God sends manna, the kavod of God appeared in a cloud (Exodus 9:6, 9:23). When the people protest the deaths following Korach’s rebellion, cloud covers the Tent of Meeting and the kavod of God appeared (Numbers 17:7).  But when the altar is initiated and the kavod of God appears to all the people, Fire came forth and consumed the offering (Leviticus 9:6, 9:23).  When Moses climbs to the top of Mt. Sinai to spend 40 days, he sees a cloud and knows the kavod of God is concealed inside it, but the people below see the kavod of God as a fire (Exodus 24:16-17).  The kavod of God also appears as both cloud and fire in Exodus 40:34-35, the conclusion quoted above.
  4. That is my interpretation, but there are others. For instance, Rashbam (12th-century Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir) wrote that after filling the tent, the cloud diminished and rested on top of the ark, between the poles.
  5. Exodus 24:3-8. (See my post Mishpatim & Ki Tissa: A Covenant in Writing).
  6. Exodus 24:9-11. (See my post Mishpatim: After the Vision, Eat Something).
  7. Deuteronomy1:33, 5:21-22.
  8. Deuteronomy 31:14-15.
  9. Also see Leviticus 9:6, 9:24, and 10:1-2; and Deuteronomy 4:23.

 

Vayakheil & Psalm 13: Waiting for Contentment

February 27, 2019 at 11:40 am | Posted in Psalms/Tehilim, Vayakheil | 1 Comment

detail of “Moses on Mt. Sinai” by Jean-Leon Gerome, ca. 1900

The Israelites are overcome with anxiety the first time Moses spends 40 days on Mount Sinai.  In last week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa:

The people saw that Moses was long delayed in coming down from the mountain, and they assembled against Aaron, and they said to him: “Get up, make for us a god who will go in front of us, since this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him!”  (Exodus/Shemot 32:1)

Aaron asks them to donate their gold earrings to melt down.  They do, but Aaron does the work of making the golden calf.  Even though he says the new idol represents the God of Israel, not another god, it turns out to be a bad solution to the people’s anxiety.  Between them, Moses and God destroy thousands of Israelites and chasten the survivors.  After a while God forgives them.  (See last week’s post, Ki Tissa: Stiff-Necked People.)

Then Moses tells the Israelites what God does want them to make: a portable tent-sanctuary, where God will speak from the empty space above the ark inside the inner chamber.  In in this week’s Torah portion, Vayakheil (“And he assembled”), they gladly pitch in.

Every man and woman whose heart prompted them to bring anything for the work that God had commanded to do through Moses, the Israelites brought as a nedavah for God.  (Exodus 35:29)

nedavah (נְדָבָה) = spontaneous voluntary offering.

Betzaleil and Oholiav, Anton Koberger, Nuremberg Bible, 1483

Then Moses called on Betzaleil and on Ohaliav and on everyone with a skilled mind, to whom God had given a skilled mind; everyone whose heart lifted at approaching the work to do it.  (Exodus 36:2)

Moses appoints the most skilled craftsman, Betzaleil, to make the most holy objects.  But everyone with skill in weaving, sewing, metal-smithing, and woodworking gets to make some part of the new Tent of Meeting and its courtyard enclosure.  And the people with materials keep on donating them, until Moses has to tell them to stop because the artisans have more than enough.1

For the rest of the book of Exodus (five chapters), nobody complains and nobody worries.  The people are content, fulfilled by using their gifts to make something important, secure in their knowledge that God will be with them.

Yet in the book of Numbers, three days after they set out from Mount Sinai, the Israelites start complaining again—this time about the food.2  Even though both the ark and a divine cloud are leading them, even though the Levites are carrying all the pieces of the portable sanctuary, the people are discontented.  Perhaps the problem is that they no longer have anything to do but march to the border of Canaan.

The Israelite ex-slaves in the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy are like children, who enjoy doing things on their own but depend on an adult to straighten out anything that goes wrong.  When they are hungry or afraid, they complain and wait for God to relieve their suffering.

The book of Psalms includes pleas by suffering individuals as well as pleas for all the Israelites.  Psalm 44 is the first of a series of psalms complaining that God is neglecting and hiding from the Israelites as a whole, letting them be defeated in battle and subjugated by enemies.  Individuals feel abandoned and ask how long God will make them wait for rescue from diseases or personal enemies in Psalms 6, 10, 13, 22, and 35.  Only Psalm 13 hints at a solution to God’s abandonment.

Psalm 13

by John Constable

How long, God, will you endlessly forget me?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I make schemes inside myself,

My heart in torment all day?

How long will my enemy loom over me?

Look!  Answer me, God, my God!

Light up my eyes, lest I sleep death!

Lest my enemy say he has prevailed over me,

My adversaries rejoice when I am made to stumble.  (Psalm 13:2-5)

The speaker has two problems:

1) God is hiding God’s face; i.e. the speaker is no longer aware of God’s presence, and so feels abandoned.

2) The enemy seems to be winning, despite the schemes the speaker devises.  In this life-and-death struggle, only God’s intervention can turn the tables.  But the speaker has already been waiting an unbearably long time for God to manifest and act.  Where is the responsible adult in charge?3

Unlike the Israelites who wait 40 days for Moses to return, only to give up and demand an idol, the speaker in Psalm 13 finds a better response.

by James Tissot

Yet I will trust in your loyal-kindness.

My heart will rejoice in your rescue.

I will sing to God,

Because [God] gamal me.  (Psalm 13:6)

gamal (גָמַל) = ripened, weaned, rewarded, made mature.

Even if God seems to have abandoned the speaker, the speaker decides not to abandon God.  A more mature approach is to sing to God while waiting for God to act.

*

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakheil, God makes a request, and the Israelites create beautiful items for God’s sanctuary.  As long as they are doing that work, they are content to wait for God to rejoin them.

In Psalm 13, God neither makes a request nor acts to rescue the speaker.  After waiting a long time, the speaker takes initiative and creates a song for God.  They are still waiting for God to rescue them, but at least they are mature enough to sing, which leads to a hopeful frame of mind.

I think there is a third possibility, not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  If you are miserable and God does not tell you what to do, then act on your own initiative.  Even when you cannot figure out a scheme for improving your situation, you can make something beautiful for God.  Sing, write, paint.  Smile and speak humbly to a fellow human being.  Whenever you do something beautiful, God is inside you.

  1. Exodus 36:4-7.
  2. Numbers 10:33, 11:1-6.
  3. Breuggemann’s interpretation goes farther: “The speaker does not for a moment entertain the thought that the trouble comes from guilt or failure. It is because of Yahweh’s irresponsible absence, which is regarded as not only unfortunate, but unfaithful to covenant.” (Walter Breuggemann, The Message of the Psalms, Augsburg Publishing House, 1984, p. 59)

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Ki Tissa: Stiff-Necked People

February 20, 2019 at 7:22 pm | Posted in Ki Tissa | 1 Comment

Pharaoh has a hard heart in the book of Exodus; the Israelites have hard necks.

Pharaoh Merneptah subjugates Semites

Pharaoh stubbornly refuses to let the Israelites go, ignoring both a series of miraculous disasters and the advice of his own counselors.  Every time he is tempted to change his heart (i.e. mind), it hardens again.

The Israelites escape from Egypt and slavery, but whenever something makes them anxious they turn their backs on the God who rescued them, and revert to the mentality of slaves in Egypt.  (For some examples, see my posts Ki Tissa: Making an Idol Out of Fear, Beha-alotkha & Beshallach: Stomach vs. Soul, and Shelach-Lekha: Mutual Distrust.)

During the revelation at Mount Sinai God makes it clear that idols will not be tolerated.  The “Ten Commandments” include:

Do not make yourself a carved idol or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or of what is in the land below, or of what is in the water beneath the land.  Do not bow down to them and do not serve them.  (Exodus/Shemot 20:4-5)

And God’s next set of laws repeats:

With me, you shall not make gods of silver or gods of gold; you shall not make them!  (Exodus 20:20)

Before Moses leaves to spend 40 days at the top of Mount Sinai, the Israelites swear twice that they will obey everything God said.1

But they panic in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa (“When you bring up”), when 40 days have passed since Moses walked into the cloud and fire on the mountaintop.  As Moses is hiking down with the two stone tablets, God tells him what the Israelites are doing:

Apis, Egyptian bull god

“They turned aside quickly from the path that I commanded them; they made for themselves a calf of cast metal, and they bowed down to it, and they slaughtered sacrifices for it, and they said: ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’”  And God said to Moses: “I see this people, and hey!  Am-keshei-oref!”.  (Exodus 32:8-9)

am-keshei-oref = a hard-necked people, a stiff-necked people.

am (עַם) = a people: the humans of a particular ethnic group, community, or location.

keshei (קְשֵׁה) = construct form of kasheh (קָשֶׁה) = hard, stiff, heavy, severe, difficult.  (From the root verb kashah (קָשָׁה) = be hard, harden.  Pharaoh’s heart is hardened (הִקְשָׁה) in Exodus 7:3 and 13:15.)

oref (עֺרֶף) = back of the neck, nape, neck.

In the bible turning one’s oref, the back of one’s neck, on somebody can mean fleeing, like the English idiom “turning tail”.2  But it can also mean rejection, like the English idiom “turning one’s back on”.3  According to the commentary of Rashi and Ibn Ezra on Exodus 32:9, stiff-necked people turn their backs on God and refuse to turn around.4  (See my post Eikev: Covered Heart, Stiff Neck.)

After telling Moses about the golden calf, God says:

“And now, leave me alone and my rage will increase against them and I will consume them.  Then I will make you into a great nation.”  (Exodus 32:10)

Moses Breaking the Tablets, by Rembrandt

But Moses does not leave God alone.  He persuades God to refrain from exterminating the Israelites.  Then he goes down and sees the calf worship with his own eyes.  Moses shatters the two stone tablets God gave him, and orders a massacre of the worst offenders.  God sends a plague to kill the rest of the guilty.  After God and Moses have both simmered down, God declares that the surviving Israelites should still go to Canaan.

“And I will send an angel in front of you, and I will drive out the Canaanites … But I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way; because you are an am-keshei-oref.”  (Exodus 33:2-3)

The people go into mourning.  They want God right there travelling along with them; the idea of an impersonal angel does not satisfy their need for security.  But the God-character predicts that accompanying these stiff-necked people would be so infuriating that God would erupt again in murderous rage.

And God said to Moses: “Say to the Israelites: ‘You are an am-keshei-oref!  [If] for one instant I went up in your midst, I would put an end to you.  So now, strip off the ornaments you are wearing, and I will figure out what I will do to you.’”  (Exodus 33:5)

A stiff-necked deity?

At this point God has rejected the Israelites and called them an am-keshei-oref  three times.  Yet the God-character’s metaphorical neck does not remain hard.  God backs off from the original threat to exterminate all the Israelites and tells Moses only the guilty will die.  Then God softens a little more and promises to drive the natives out of Canaan and to send an angel to lead the Israelites—but not to go in their midst.

Moses then pitches the Tent of Meeting outside the camp so God will not have to speak with him in the midst of the people.  When Moses walks over to the tent and goes inside, the divine pillar of cloud appears at the entrance.  Then all the people watching from the camp rise and bow down to the ground.  This probably makes a good impression on God.5

After a while Moses asks God for a personal favor.

“And now, please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please let me know your ways.  Then I will know you, so that I will continue to find favor in your eyes.  And see that this nation is your am.”  (Exodus 33:13)

God promises to reveal part of the divine nature (“my back”)6 and also to inscribe two replacement tablets.  So Moses climbs up Mount Sinai again.  God appears in a cloud and passes in front of him, announcing that God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, full of kindness and good faith, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, and forgiving transgressions (although the guilt of parents continues to have an effect for three or four generations).7

These may be aspirational traits that the God-character has decided to adopt—especially “slow to anger”.  After hearing God’s glowing self-portrait, Moses bows to the ground.

And he said: “If, please, I have found approval in your eyes, my lord, will my lord go, please, in our midst?  Even though it is an am-keshei-oref?  And will you pardon our wrongdoing and our errors, and accept us as yours?”  (Exodus 34:9)

And the gentler, kinder God-character agrees—on the condition that the Israelites avoid making any treaties with the natives of Canaan, destroy all the natives’ religious items, avoid intermarriage, and never make another cast-metal idol of their own.8

Thus the God-character turns out to be flexible, able to reconsider and turn the divine “face” back toward the people he had rejected.

A stiff-necked people

The Israelites remain stiff-necked.  Even when they can see Canaan across the Jordan River, they still revert to their old ways and join the native Moabites in worshiping a local god.9

Nevertheless, these same Israelites wander in the wilderness for 40 years as they wait for their God to let them into Canaan.  Occasionally they stray, but most of those four decades they are remarkably patient.  Although it is hard for them to abandon their need for a physical representation of God, it is also hard for them to abandon their God altogether.  They are stubborn that way.

“They are so stubborn that, if only You will pardon them until they are immersed in Your faith, they will cling as stubbornly to that as they did to the previous one, and You will own them forever.”10

*

My own neck is literally stiff, due to an old injury, and I have to work daily to loosen the hard muscles.  I also have to work to loosen my stubborn preconceptions.  Sometimes (thank God) I realize that I’ve been unconsciously reacting to an old emotional injury.  Then I know it’s time to turn my head and consider a different path.

Stubbornness helps you to keep going when you are following the path that the divine presence within you knows is right.  Turning your neck to look at other paths helps you to find the right way to “walk with God” when you get lost.

May we all know when to be stiff-necked, and when to turn our heads.

(An earlier version of this post was published in February 2010.)

  1. Exodus 24:3 and 24:7.
  2. Turning one’s oref indicates fleeing from enemies in Exodus 23:27, Joshua 7:8 and 7:12, and Jeremiah 18:17.
  3. Jeremiah 2:27, Jeremiah 32:33, and 2 Chronicles 29:6.
  4. Rashi (11th-century Rabbi Shlomoh Yitzchaki) wrote “They turned the hardness of the backs of their necks toward those who reproved them, and they refused to listen.” (translation by chabad.org). Abraham Ibn Ezra (12th-century) wrote “The image is that of a man walking down the road who, if someone calls him, will not turn his head.”  (translation by Michael Carasik, The Commentator’s Bible: Exodus, The Jewish Publication Society, 2005, p. 285).
  5. Exodus 33:7-11.
  6. Exodus 33:23.
  7. Exodus 34:6-7, the source of the “Thirteen Attributes” in Jewish liturgy.
  8. Exodus 34:10-17.
  9. Numbers 25:1-3.
  10. 14th-century Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, also known as Ralbag or Gersonides, repeating a teaching by his grandfather, Rabbi Levi ha-Kohein. Translated by Carasik, p. 304.

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Tetzavveh: Flower on the Forehead

February 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm | Posted in Tetzavveh | Leave a comment

Garments of High Priest

by Melissa Carpenter, maggidah

Some of the unique items the high priest wears, such as his sky-blue robe, add to his awe-inspiring appearance.1  Others items described in this week’s Torah portion, Tetzavveh (“You shall command”), have an additional purpose; for example, the high priest wears a gem-studded choshen on his breast, and uses it to consult God with yes or no questions.2

Another item that only the high priest wears is a tzitz tied to his forehead.

And you shall make a tzitz of pure gold, and you shall engrave on it with engraving like a chotam: “Holy to God”.  You shall put it on a cord of sky-blue.  And it shall be on the turban; at the front of the turban it shall be.  (Exodus/Shemot 28:36-37)

tzitz (צִיץ) = a flower.  (Plural: either tzitz or tzitztim (צִצִּים).  From the root verb tzutz (צוּץ) = bloom.3  Another word from the same root is tzitzit (צִיצִּת) = tassel, fringe, or lock of hair.)

chotam (חֺתָם) = cylindrical seal or signet ring, carved to impress a design on damp clay that serves as the wearer’s signature.  (From the root verb chatam (חתם) = to affix a seal, to confirm, to close up securely.)

The noun tzitz appears 16 times in the Hebrew Bible.  The first three times, tzitz refers to the gold engraved object the high priest wears on his forehead.4  The word tzitz next appears when God orders a demonstration to prove who deserves authority over the Israelites.  If the leader of each of the twelve tribes leaves his wooden staff inside the tent-sanctuary overnight, God will make the staff of the winner sprout buds.  In the morning:

Hey!  The staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had budded, and it had brought forth buds, and it had bloomed tzitz, and it had produced almonds.  (Numbers/Bamidbar 17:23)

In the rest of the Hebrew Bible, a tzitz is a flower.  In King Solomon’s temple, tzitzim are carved into wood panels for ornamentation.5   In five places where the word tzitz appears, humans are compared to wildflowers that quickly wilt and die.6  When Isaiah rails against rich drunkards, he describes their heads as crowned with wilted flowers.7

But the high priest’s head is crowned with a flower made out of gold.  The Torah assumes that this object, as well as the high priesthood, will continue indefinitely, passing from one man to the next.

The gold tzitz must have a flat surface where the words “Holy to God” are engraved, as well as two small holes for attaching the blue cord, but otherwise the design is a matter of speculation.  Flavius Josephus, describing the sacred items stored in a Roman treasury after the sack of the second temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., wrote that around the high priest’s headdress was:

Hyoscyamus albus

… a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another; out of which arose a cup of gold, which resembled the herb which we call ‘saccharis,’ but those Greeks that are skillful in botany call it ‘hyoscyamus.’  … a flower that may seem to resemble that of the poppy.  Of this was a crown made … [it] did not cover the forehead, but it was covered with a ‘golden plate,’ which had inscribed upon it the name of God in sacred characters.8

Several centuries later the rabbis of the Talmud described the tzitz as a kind of smooth plate of gold, and its width is two fingerbreadths, and it encircles the forehead from ear to ear.”  Rabbi Eliezer ben Yosei added: “I saw it in the Caesar’s treasury in the city of Rome and Sacred to God was written on one line.”9

Whether the gold object tied to the high priest’s forehead is an engraved band with a gold flower rising up from it, or a flower-shaped gold medallion with engraving in the center, it is more than a symbol.  This week’s Torah portion continues:

And it shall be on the forehead of Aaron, and Aaron shall lift off any transgression from the holy things which the Israelites make holy, from all their holy gifts.  And it shall be on his forehead perpetually, for their acceptance before God.  (Exodust 28:38)

Just by wearing the tzitz on his forehead, the high priest compensates for any accidental ritual impurity in the people’s offerings to God at the altar.

How?  The words “Holy to God” are a double reminder.  The Israelites seeing it would remember that the whole purpose of their ritual sacrifices is to make themselves holy—i.e., to dedicate themselves to God above all other purposes.  This dedication must be their core identity; thus the words are engraved into the gold medallion the way an identity seal is carved.

The words on the tzitz also remind God to treat the people as sacred.  “Holy to God”, according to Rabbi Elie Munk, “relays a message of Divine love by proclaiming Israel as a nation consecrated to God.  Yet, it is also a reminder of Israel’s permanent duty to strive every closer to the ideal of holiness.  The Tzitz expresses both Divine love and Israel’s moral obligations.”10

*

The high priest’s tzitz could be viewed narrowly as a magical object designed to ensure conformity to God’s rules about ritual purity.  Or it could be viewed as an aesthetic object inspiring a feeling of spiritual elevation.

But Munk points out that love and moral obligations are more important than conformity or spirituality.  What good is a religious object if we are not kind and helpful to our fellow human beings?

So the built-in symbolism of the tzitz matters after all.  Gold is the most precious metal in the Torah, reserved for the most sacred items in the sanctuary.  A flower is one of God’s most beautiful creations, and also one of the most evanescent.  Yet after a flower wilts, its fruit becomes the source of seeds for new life.

The word for “God” engraved on the gold flower is the four-letter name of God, a possible permutation of the verb “to be” or “to become”.  (See my post Beshellach & Shemot: Knowing the Name.)  And the words “Holy to God” are to be carved in relief on the tzitz, like the symbol of identity carved on a chotam, a seal.  Thus the identity of God is confirmed and secured.

The flower and God’s name both remind us that our universe is always becoming.  Flowers wilt, but the spirit of God goes on creating as seeds fall and new plants bloom.

May we all walk through life as if we wear an invisible tzitz, dedicating ourselves to life despite death, to change rather than stagnation, to growth instead of destruction.  And may we all be kind to each another on the path of becoming.

(An earlier version of this post was published in February, 2011.)

  1. Exodus 28:31. The sky-blue dye is techelet; see my post Bemidbar: Covering the Sacred.)
  2. Exodus 28:30. The choshen is a stiff rectangular pocket attached with gold rings and blue cords to the front of the high priest’s tabard (eifod).  On the outside front surface, over his chest, the choshen bears twelve precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Inside the pocket of the choshen are the urim and tummim, used to divine God’s answers to yes/no questions.  (See Judges 20:27-28, 1 Samuel 23:9-12, 1 Samuel 30:7-8.)
  3. Out of nine occurrences of the verb tzutz in the Hebrew Bible, all but one clearly refer to budding or blooming. The questionable reference is in Song of Songs 2:9, in which the woman describes her male beloved as “This one, standing behind our wall, gazing through the windows, meitzitz through the lattices.”  Meitzitz ((מֵצִײץ is usually translated as “peering” rather than “blooming”.  But this is the poem that says the beloved woman’s teeth are “like a flock of sheep climbing up from the washing pool” and her forehead is “like a slice of pomegranate”.  (Songs 4:2-3)  Maybe her lover is “blooming” through the lattices, like an eager flowering vine.
  4. Exodus 28:36 and 39:30, Leviticus 8:9.
  5. 1 Kings 6:18, 6:29, 6:32, 6:35.
  6. Isaiah 40:6, 40:7, 40:8; Psalm 103:15; Job 14:2.
  7. Isaiah 28:1, 28:4. Tzitz also appears in Jeremiah 48:9.
  8. Flavius Josephus, The Works of Flavius Josephus, translated by William Whiston, Baltimore, 1835, book III, chapter VII, p. 71.
  9. Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 63b, in the William Davidson Talmud, Koren Noe Edition, sefaria.org/Shabbat.63a?lang=bi.
  10. Rabbi Eli Munk (20th-century), The Call of the Torah: Shemos, translated by E.S. Mazer, Mesorah Publictions, Ltd., Brooklyn, 2001, p. 405.
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